Cablegate: Colombia Scenesetter for Codel Price (August 20-23)


DE RUEHBO #2563/01 2251659
P 131659Z AUG 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) STATE 80752 B) 07 BOGOTA 6697


1. (SBU) We welcome the return of House Democracy Assistance
Commission Chairman David Price and delegation to Colombia. Your
visit comes as a regional debate over a U.S.-Colombia Defense
Cooperation Agreement has heated up and amidst significant political
developments, as Congress exerts greater legislative independence.
The Colombian Congressional session began July 20, and debates over
several key issues have grabbed headlines, including a referendum to
allow President Uribe to run for a third term, an important victims'
rights law, and a political reform that would lessen the number of
political parties, but make them more accountable to voters. These
debates are occurring in the context of legislative and presidential
elections next spring.

2. (SBU) As many members of the delegation know from previous
visits, Colombia has progressed from a near failed state and
terrorist haven to an economic, political, and social leader in
Latin America in the past ten years. Colombia has also achieved
many security improvements and made notable progress in battling
narcoterrorism, but human rights issues remain a significant
concern. The Government of Colombia (GOC) and U.S. Embassy are
working together to expand these successes through a new
Embassy/Colombia follow-on strategy to Plan Colombia-- called the
Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI), which complements
the GOC's recently completed National Consolidation Plan (PCN). End

Your Visit with the Colombian Congress

3. (SBU) Colombia has made much progress since the House Democracy
Assistance Commission last visited two years ago with its Congress
more vibrant than ever, but facing major challenges. The
Congressional leaders you will meet were surprisingly elected over
President Uribe's preferred choices, and since the start of the July
Congressional session, Congress has exerted greater independence
from the executive branch. Under the backdrop of presidential and
legislative elections next spring, there are several important
issues facing the Colombian Congress. First, Congress must reach a
decision on legislation that would allow President Uribe to run for
a third, four-year term next year. Procedural and substantive
delays in conferencing the House and Senate bills have hurt
prospects for this legislation. The Uribe coalition seems to be
fraying at the edges over reelection, with time working against them
since the legislation needs to be approved by Congress and the
Supreme Court and then put to a national vote by this November.

4. (SBU) Another important theme is the approval in June of a
political reform designed to punish politicians who collaborate with
criminal and paramilitary elements, while also increasing party
responsibility and accountability for members' voting records. This
landmark legislation ties Congressional votes to each member for the
public record and now accounts for absenteeism. Other significant
changes include an increase in the percentage of required votes
needed for a party to be officially recognized, thus reducing the
number of minor political parties and creating more stability in the
multi-party system; changes in finance laws; and the ability for
members to switch parties.

5. (SBU) Congress is also debating competing versions of a law
designed to create a framework for reparations to victims of
violence related to the ongoing armed conflict. The Congress itself
is operating under the shadow of a parapolitical scandal. Thus far,
86 members of Congress (of 268 total members in the House and
Senate) have been investigated for ties to paramilitaries and six
have been found guilty.

Human Rights Challenges Remain

6. (SBU) Colombia has publicly committed to improving its human
rights performance, and we hope you will be able to reinforce the
human rights message with the GOC leadership. The Armed Forces
dismissed over 50 military officers and enlisted men due to alleged
involvement in extrajudicial killings, and the civilian prosecutors
have developed criminal cases against several of them. We are
working with the Ministry of Defense to improve rules of engagement,
and make sure that soldiers accused of human rights abuses are
investigated by civilian prosecutors. In addition, the Uribe
Administration has been rocked by revelations of illegal electronic
surveillance of Supreme Court justices, political opponents, and
human rights groups carried out by the state intelligence service
(DAS). Labor unionist homicides declined 76 percent between
2001-2008, yet in 2008 the number of labor homicides (for all
causes) increased from 39 to 49--largely due to a spike in the first
quarter. Still, the murder rate for unionists is well below the
national homicide rate. As of June 2009, 18 murders of unionists
have been reported this year.

Regional Tensions Flare

7. (SBU) The rifts between Colombia and its neighbors, Venezuela and
Ecuador, have widened over recent scandals related to the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist group. The
computers of the deceased FARC Number Two, along with a recently
released video of a FARC military chief, point to FARC monetary
contributions to Ecuadorean President Correa's presidential campaign
as well as Ecuadorian leniency for FARC activities within Ecuador.
President Chavez again recalled his ambassador to Colombia following
press revelations in July that Swedish made anti-tank
missiles--originally sold to the Venezuelan military--were
discovered in FARC hands (he returned to Bogota in August). The GOC
has remained calm in the face of Chavez's provocative rhetoric,
which included threats to deploy forces to the border, suspend trade
ties, and nationalize Colombian owned businesses in Venezuela.

8. (SBU) A Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) now nearing
completion with Colombia would provide U.S. access to seven
Colombian military facilities to facilitate cooperation to combat
narcotics trafficking and other transnational crime. The DCA
updates existing agreements that date back to 1952, and would not
increase the U.S. military footprint in Colombia. Nevertheless,
Venezuelan President Chavez, joined by leaders from Ecuador,
Bolivia, and Argentina, reacted to news of the negotiations with
harsh complaints over an increased U.S. military presence in the
region. Chavez expressed fears of an American invasion of Venezuela
and said he felt the "winds of war blowing in the continent." Even
moderate governments, like Brazil and Chile, demanded an
explanation. From August 4-6, President Uribe visited seven South
American presidents to reassure them that the agreement did not
entail the establishment of U.S. bases and was a continuation of
bilateral counternarcotics and security cooperation. The rhetoric
from Caracas has calmed somewhat as a result and Uribe may attend a
regional summit on security issues on August 28 in Argentina.

Post-Plan Colombia Initiatives

9. (U) To consolidate the gains of Plan Colombia, we have developed
the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI), which meshes
with Colombia's own National Consolidation Plan (PNC). Our efforts
initially focus on three priority areas of on-going conflict, drug
trafficking, and social marginalization. PNC/CSDI has prioritized
addressing the lack of state presence that enables coca production
and illegally armed groups, and seeks to establish state presence in
strategic, under-governed parts of the country. The plan is
centered on increasing territorial control in these areas to provide
security for communities; to achieve permanent eradication; to
transfer security responsibility to the police; and to provide a
wide range of socio-economic services. CSDI's core assumption is
that security is the precondition for development, which gives
communities a stake in the long term future of their region, which
is in turn the surest way to long-term security in traditionally
marginalized rural and vulnerable populations.

10. (SBU) The civilian lead of the PNC has yet to take full charge
of consolidation efforts, leaving the Ministry of Defense (MOD)
organizationally in front. This leadership vacuum means that the
USG is both partner and catalyst in this effort,
supplying planning and flexible funding to get consolidation from
concept to implementation. Other obstacles include the need for a
comprehensive GOC security strategy to transition from military to
police in "consolidated" territories; more clarity on a
post-eradication strategy; stronger presence of the justice sector
in CSDI areas; and increased funding support for PNC ministries in
the GOC budget.

The Future and Cartagena

11. (SBU) Your visit to Cartagena holds many keys to the issues that
will play a major role in Colombia's future. With security issues
largely resolved already, the effectiveness of our CSDI efforts will
likely become evident in the Montes de Maria zone near Cartagena
within a year. You will visit the Coordination Center that meshes
civilian development, law enforcement, and military efforts to
develop the Montes de Maria zone. Drug traffickers have
increasingly turned to seaborne shipments of drugs either in speed
(go-fast) boats, self-propelled semi-submersible boats or hidden in
commercial cargo. Maritime counter-narcotics interdiction will be
ever more vital to our efforts to combat drug trafficking. Our
joint efforts had unparalleled success in 2008, with record seizures
of cocaine on the high seas, which coupled with a record year in
eradication led to double digit increases in the price of cocaine in
the U.S and decreases in its purity.

12. (SBU) The coastal region is home to a large percentage of
Colombia's African descendant population. Cartagena's charismatic
and dynamic mayor is Afro-Colombian and her rise reflects grass
roots efforts to increase Afro-Colombian political participation
that we have nurtured. Despite important progress in recent years,
Afro-Colombians still face daunting discrimination and remain the
country's poorest, short-lived and often internally displaced group.
The future of the fifth of Colombia's population that is
Afro-Colombian will help determine the course for the country. The
GOC has warmed to grass-roots Afro-Colombian efforts, and the
Colombian Congress is poised to take action on sweeping
anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation supported by
President Uribe.

© Scoop Media

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